Annie Leibovitz's American Pilgrimage
In a new book and exhibition, the esteemed photographer pursues a passion for history and lets us see familiar icons in a fresh light
- By Terence Monmaney
- Smithsonian magazine, January 2012
(© Annie Leibovitz / Contact Press Images from the book Pilgrimage, Random House, 2011 © Annie Leibovitz)
“How wonderful to uncover the reasons you like a place,” Annie Leibovitz said while signing copies of Pilgrimage, a new book of photographs that’s the basis of a traveling exhibition opening January 20 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Among the 300 or so fans jammed into the bookstore, those who expected Leibovitz to play the haughty diva—it was she who photographed nude, pregnant Demi Moore for Vanity Fair—were disappointed. Leibovitz chatted with fans, she posed for cellphone snapshots, she cried when she read aloud from Pilgrimage about Marian Anderson, the celebrated African-American singer who performed at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution banned her from their hall. There are 122 images in the fastidiously printed book, most made at historic U.S. sites. Emerson’s library. Lincoln’s top hat (in the Smithsonian). Niagara Falls. Some are landscapes, but all are, in spirit, still lifes—unpeopled, rather solemn, considered. Leibovitz’s trips to those places over two years served as a welcome change of focus in a hectic life beset by financial troubles, an “exercise in renewal,” she calls it. “Looking at history provided a way of going forward.”
Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, has been kept largely as it was when he lived there, from 1957 until his death in 1977. Dining room mirrors reflect a stairway to the private quarters.
(Buy a signed copy of American Pilgrimage at SmithsonianStore.com)